Due to the beautiful white and blue buildings of Oia, a few popular movies, and then, of course, Instagram, Santorini is one of the most popular islands in the Greek isles.
Mix that in with a few cheap flight options, friendly Greeks, neverending sunshine, and delicious Mediterranean food and you have yourself the grand slam of holidays.
We love Greece and have made several trips to explore the different islands. There are so many things to do in Santorini so I’m sure you’ll have just as great of a time as we did!
The Best Things to do in Santorini
1. Hike to Oia
With its dramatic changes in elevation, Santorini offers many activities that require your heart to pick up the pace. If you’re willing and able, the hike from Fira to Oia is one that will not only burn calories but will burn a lifelong memory into your mind too. And speaking of burning, if you do this hike in the summer, bring a good hat, your favorite pair of shades and a bottle of eco friendly sunblock; the sun here can burn you to a crisp if proper precautions aren’t taken. Starting in Fira, the trail proceeds in a northerly direction to Firostefani, Imerovigli and finishes at Oia.
The view at hike’s end, descending into Oia, is one that you won’t ever forget. Between Imerovigli and Oia, there are a few perfectly placed Greek restaurants and shops for those who’d like to take a break for refreshment or buy a keepsake to remind them of their trip. Depending on your physical ability and motivation, the hike can take anywhere from a few hours to 5 or 6. If possible, start early to beat the worst of the unforgiving Santorini sun. Oh, and it’s a free and active thing to do in Santorini.
2. Visit the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral
Resting precariously on the edge of the caldera in Fira, the Orthodox Cathedral’s white plaster façade brilliantly contrasts with the blue sky, making it a recognizable icon that can be viewed from many parts of the island. Nearly two hundred years old – and despite being shaken by a massive earthquake in the ’50s – the Cathedral has held together and been totally refurbished.
Known for its majestic tower, graceful arches and the mosaics and frescos that were created by artisans from the town, it’s a spot you won’t want to miss. Inside its arches, there’s a peaceful courtyard, but be advised that men must wear long pants, and women must have their shoulders covered before you’ll be allowed in.
3. Go Cliff Jumping
Not an activity recommended for the faint of heart, cliff jumping at Amoudi Bay – or anywhere in Greece – is an activity best left to the young, fit and fearless. Though not that high by cliff jumping standards, it’s enough to give you a rush, as are the majestic cliffs and mesmerizingly clear, blue Mediterranean waters glistening below.
If you’d rather take a leisurely swim than jump, that’s okay too; there are stairs leading down to the water’s edge. If you do decide to climb to the precipice above, you’ll have to exert a bit of energy but you’ll be amply rewarded. To get there from Oia, take the stairs that lead down to Amoudi Bay. Go left at the bottom and follow the cliff until you catch a glimpse of people perched in strange positions on the rocks. If you miss it here, don’t worry – there are fabulous cliff-jumping opportunities all over Santorini.
4. See the Tomato Museum in Vlychada
If visiting a real-life tomato processing plant turned museum has been that one maddeningly elusive item on your bucket list, then your trip to Santorini will be like divine intervention. Like a looking glass into its agricultural past, the museum will give you a glimpse of farming, processing and the importance of the humble tomato in Santorini’s prosperous past.
The original machines have been lovingly restored, as have lots of documents, papers, tools, and some of the original packaging labels too. There are audiovisual stations throughout the museum that include recorded interviews with the workers who used to work there. It’s one of the cool and quirky things to do in Santorini and a great place to spend a few hours after a long hike or morning at the beach.
5. Enjoy a Sunset Boat Tour
Unsurprisingly, since Santorini is an island, there are plenty of boat tours available; some of them conveniently include other non-boating activities, like walking along a volcano and visiting hot springs as part of the tour. In Santorini, there really isn’t a place where the sunsets aren’t majestic, but there’s something inexplicably magical about sunset when seen from the deck of a boat gently bobbing in a darkening sea. Many of the boat tours include the sunset, but make sure you ask what time the tour ends and if it’s included.
Many of the tours start in Athinios, Fira’s Old Port or Amoudi Bay. Snacks and beverages are available on all boats and remember that it can get chilly on the water when the sun goes down, so throw a sweater in a backpack to take with you just in case.
6. Stroll the Streets of Oia
In years past, the town of Oia was prosperous due to its large fleet of merchant’s vessels that carried goods from Greece to Europe, Russia, and the Middle East. Most of the two-story homes near the top of the hill are the former residences of these vessel’s captains. Though many of the homes were damaged in the earthquake of 1956, they’ve all been restored.
The view from below on the narrow path leading up into the town hearkens back to a different age. The white and cream plaster homes with their wonderful mix of Greek and Moorish architecture and turquoise windows, domes, and doors, all stacked together on uneven terraces framed by the blue sky, are the stuff of which great photographs, paintings, and memories are made. Tiny bistros, statues of the Virgin Mary and other gems await you as you meander through the town’s tiny alleys.
7. Visit the Black Beach at Perissav
If you’re looking to kill some time on a sunny day, why not try a little black sand sunbathing? It’ll be painful if you’re walking barefoot in the hot sub, but at least you can say you did it. Be sure to wear foot protection and slather on a liberal dose of sunblock to avoid the real damage the sun can do here. Lounge chairs and umbrellas are available to rent, and when you’re ready to call it quits, you can head to one of the cool cafes just behind the beach.
8. Read a Book at Atlantis Books
If you’re a hopeless book lover like I am, visiting a bookstore that has been ranked as one of the top ten in the world should be on your itinerary. Once there, you’ll find it hard to imagine that there are other bookstores in the world that rank any higher. Established in 2004, the shop has a great selection from which to choose and even publishes its own Santorini guide.
This would be a great stop to make in the early stages of your trip, as it will give you some good ideas on how you’d like to spend your time. Found amidst many of the local tourist shops selling souvenirs and knick-knacks, you’ll likely consider this shop a welcome diversion.
9. Tour Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum
Housed in a natural cave nearly 20-feet deep and 1,000-feet long, the museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of wine going back to the 1600’s. Founded in 1880 by two Greek brothers whose last name is impossibly long and difficult to spell, it’s still a family-run business nearly 150 years later. Personal guided tours are available, and you’ll see well-done still-life exhibits – additional audio stops are available to explain what you’re seeing.
Make it a point to watch the film that gives a fascinating overview of Santorini’s history, from 1500 BC to the present. And for wine lovers, what wine tour would be complete without a sample? If you’re interested, make sure your trip coincides with the traditional Greek buffet and cultural show that’s offered every Friday night. The museum is open at different times depending on the season, so ask in town or check online before you go.
10. Luxury Catamaran or Sailboat Cruise
Of all the things to do in Santorini, what could be more scenic and romantic than cruising around a caldera on a catamaran or sailboat with your honey? More upscale than the regular tour boats, the catamaran tour lasts five hours and your guide will speak English so you can give your annoying translator the night off. You’ll cruise to a volcano, a few nearby islands, an old lighthouse and you’ll also get to swim in natural hot springs. The tour leaves from Amoudi Bay below Oia and includes pick up and drop off before and after the tour, appetizers, drinks and even a choice of delectable main courses.
11. Relax at Kamari Beach
After all, you’ve done and seen while in Santorini, you deserve a relaxing day – or at least a half day at the beach. Located on Santorini’s southeast coast, Kamari is a touristy but ritzy beach that sits in the shadow of impressive Mesa Vouno Mountain. There’s a wharf that runs just behind the beach which is great for taking a casual stroll, too.
Comprised of dark sand and pebbles, the beach does get very hot, but in most areas, there are wooden walkways to prevent you from burning your feet while getting to the lounges and umbrellas you’ll want to rent. If the sun gets too much for you, head to a nearby café, bar or shop.
12. Take a Photo Tour
What better way to capture Santorini’s unique sites and charm than with a few photographs that will spark wonderful memories for years to come. If you always seem to get blurry pictures of your thumb, fear not, the tour guides are professional photographers too.
They’ll take you to the right places, at the right times, and give you plenty of friendly pointers to make sure your pictures are the best they can be. Since there are more than a few options out there, ask around or check online to get a recommendation.
Some tours include hotel pick up and drop off, and remember that though many of the tours go to the same places, they’re not all identical, so do a little investigating and pick one that best suits your interests.
13. Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Often likened to its Italian cousin Pompeii, the archaeological site at Akrotiri will give you a fascinating glimpse into ancient Greek civilization and culture. Since the town for which the site is named was buried in ash from a massive volcanic eruption in the 17th Century BC, much of the art, architecture, and items the villagers used in their everyday lives were perfectly preserved.
Unlike Pompeii, however, most of Akrotiri’s lucky inhabitants had enough time to flee before the big boom making it less well known and certainly less touristy than in Italy.
14. Visit Skaros Rock
Originally a dramatic geologic formation, Skaros Rock was used as the foundation for fortifications by the Byzantine Empire in the 13th Century, which were key to defending the island and surrounding seaways from maritime raiders.
Due to its height and a commanding view of the sea below, it’s also called Cape Skaros. Though not easy to get to, the views of the sea and volcano from the fortress are second to none, as is the sunset if you’re lucky enough – or smart enough – to be there at the right time. Due to its proximity to Imerovigli, most tours of the area’s forts start there.
15. Have a meal at Amoudi Bay
Sure, it won’t be the cheapest meal you will have in Greece, but it will certainly be the most scenic. Amoudi Bay is the spectacular bay just at the foot of Oia and besides cliff jumping or leaving on boat tours, it’s also possible to have a fantastic meal here.
The few restaurants here all serve fresh and locally caught seafood every day. The best time to enjoy a glass of wine and fresh fish is during sunset! During high season it’s recommended to make reservations. Don’t worry if you eat too much, you have some steps to walk back up into town after your whole meal.
How to get around Santorini
There are few popular ways to travel around Santorini. Rental car, moped, or four-wheeler. Santorini isn’t a huge island, but if you are a family or not confident on a moped a car rental is probably the best way to go. Just be aware that sometimes the Greeks can drive a little…crazy. If it’s your first time renting a car make sure to read a few of our tips.
The most popular way to get around is via moped or ATV. You can usually rent a motorbike for about €15 a day, and the Greeks are generally willing to cut you a deal the longer you rent.
Where to stay in Santorini?
Every time we visit Greece we stay in an Airbnb and have had fantastic experiences. To feel more at home we use Airbnb you can check out some tips and read more about getting an Airbnb coupon code here. Or just take this coupon for your first stay!
For a relaxing stay in Fira Asteras Villas is perfect. The views over the bay are simply to die for and the Greek hospitality shines through with small details like an amazing breakfast.
Oia is the famous cliffside town that many people travel to Santorini specificlaly for. Theodora suits has an impressively high rating – probably for their unparalleled views at sunset.
What to Pack for Greece?
Seriously, bring a pair of comfortable flip-flops to wander around the Greek islands. The key word here is comfortable as there will be a lot of walking involved. Yes, you could wear tennis shoes everywhere for optimal support, but Greece is a laid-back place with a lot of sunshine. So you don’t want to seem too uptight or get those ugly tennis shoes and sock tan lines around your feet.
I have sung praises about my Rainbow sandals for years. Since I bought them in 2009, I have only had to get a new pair once and that was only because my first pair got stolen in Thailand. They have arch support, are comfortable, and look great. Check out more of our favorite travel shoes here (for men and for women).
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time outside. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses; however, we love ours and will never buy cheap ones again. Of course, there are always more affordable options!
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Greece so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps here is perfectly safe to drink. We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well. However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
You will absolutely need sunscreen for your trip to the Mediterranean. You can purchase it when you get there, but then you’ll be searching around for it and may pay a premium for a generic brand. Please consider spending a few extra dollars for reef safe sunscreen. The typical sunscreens like Coppertone, No Ad, and Banana Boat have many chemicals in them that will run off your body while swimming damaging the precious coral and marine life. We have this reef safe sunscreen for our ocean adventures.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
These were great to have! You’ll do a lot of walking around Greece in the extremely hot sun. Hiking sandals allow for your feet to breathe and they do not collect sand when trudging through the desert. You bet we’ve reviewed the best hiking sandals for travelers!
We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage.
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